I am certainly a political junkie, but not to the point of being addicted to one of the major controlled substances of our election system nowadays: televised debates.
This means I will go out of my way to avoid watching political debates — such as the one held this week between Democratic candidates and earlier ones for Republican hopefuls. Simply put, I consider debates an overhyped waste of time and of good broadcasting resources that could be better devoted to more worthy subject matter such as armadillo races in South America.
In fact, the only time I can remember actually forcing myself to sit through a debate was during the 1988 presidential race between George Bush (the daddy) and Michael Dukakis.
And this was only because I attended that debate in person, at Wait Chapel on the campus of Wake Forest University, and sat on about the 10th row back from the candidates.
I remember the two shaking hands on the stage, but for the life of me, I can’t recall one thing that either Bush or Dukakis said during that Sunday evening of yore.
The main attraction in looking back was the spectacle of the whole event, which was attended by news organizations from all over the country. And it was cool seeing the notable figures who were there, such as Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.
As I strolled through a courtyard area on the hallowed grounds of dear old Wake Forest, I passed by Kennedy as he was talking to several college girls (imagine that).
And such recollections about that event at WFU reinforce my whole point about the pointlessness of debates. There are all about hype and no substance and indeed are just another thing in our country which has been ruined by TV.
Every big happening anyone wants to see, from the debates to the Super Bowl, is a made-for-TV extravaganza that places more emphasis on ratings points than quality.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think debates in their purest form are admirable exercises, which in the political sense should be a means of enlightening voters about where candidates stand on the issues.
My problem is that the debates as most people know them aren’t conducted in a traditional way, similar to what occurs during a college or high school debate.
With those kinds of competitions, participants are awarded points based on their abilities to demonstrate an understanding of the debate topics, respond to opposing arguments, demonstrate a mastery of speech components such as pacing and eye contact and simply being prepared.
All the points are tallied at the end, and the observer readily knows whether Yale or Harvard is the winner.
However, political debates follow no such logical format.
Again, I don’t bother to watch them, but based on news snippets I pick up here and there, these events seem to be orchestrated and choreographed affairs that are designed to elicit canned responses and catchy sound-bites from candidates.
There is definitely a preoccupation with the entertainment aspects, as has been the case with Republican candidates’ debates held so far.
Obviously, there was an intent to focus on Donald Trump, including directing questions to his opponents which set them up to level criticisms at the GOP front-runner and for him in turn to fire back.
Again, it’s all about entertainment.
Then after each debate, everyone talks for a week about who won or lost, which would not occur under a scoring system. Imagine if a football or baseball game were held and players took the field without a scoreboard to show who the winner was at the end.
In the absence of that rational approach, the people who favor Candidate A naturally are going to say he or she did better than candidates B or C.
Unless a candidate throws up on stage or commits some other major gaffe, no one who supports that person is going to view him or her as a loser.
I just think there are too many issues on the table of the United States, too much at stake, to allow the debate process to exist in its present form.
It’s one that does little to inform citizens about who should fill a position that arguably is the most important in the world.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.